Understanding Eskimo Science

In Richard Nelson’s “Understanding Eskimo Science” a man, Nelson, traveled

below the Arctic Circle in the boreal forest of interior Alaska were he lived, studied

and interacted with a few native Eskimos groups during the mid-1960’s. Throughout

the article Nelson provides an abundance of interesting and relevant information

about Eskimo survival coming about through the understanding of one’s

environment. Nelson’s best argument is the simple fact that these people have

managed to survive in one the, if not the, harshest environment on the planet. There

knowledge is useful, tested and true to the groups as this truly unique understanding

of there world has permitted them to thrive well in these parts. Although the

vegetation is rather scarce the Eskimo’s made due with a diet based mostly on

hunting. But as we find out in the article Nelson describes how these people are well

adapted to the art of hunting. The relationship between man and animal is described

to be one of intricate understanding and respect: “Koyukon hunters know that an

animal’s life ebbs slowly, that it remains aware and sensitive to how people treat its


The Eskimo people have accumulated a massive memory based archive of

scientifically valid knowledge concerning the diverse workings of the landscape of

Alaska. Unfortunately Nelson makes it all too clear that this knowledge is

disappearing and he fears that once gone there will never again be such a deep link

between man and land. On a side note, this arcticle also makes it clear that the

Eskimo’s respect there elders and place them at the head of all that is important as

there knowledge and experience is treasured. They are the teachers of there people

and the identity of the Eskimo is reflected in stores of experience in the minds of

elders like Igruk.

Nelson is most obviously a rational man saying rational things, but as is often

the case with topics concerning native people, this knowledge will probably be lost

in time. This article makes one think about man as a hole. Are we truly happy in our

jungles of steel? Have we not lost something of great importance, something the

Eskimo people have managed to conserve through all these millennia. We have lost

contact with the spirit of nature. We have lost it to a point where our scientist do not

consider Eskimo science (general knowledge) as a valid enough foundation for

conservation. So these knowledge will slowly disappear never to be heard again.

Indeed Mr. Nelson, man has lost his way and one of these rare links to our noble past

is at risk. Yet nothing will be done to conserve it as it is not practical in our so called

“modern day word”. The dominant feeling throughout the article is the incredible

knowledge these people use every day. A vast store of both spiritual and observatory

science that has served the Eskimo well through all these years and has ultimately

provided them with a society base on morals, respect and freedom of thought.

Category: English